Emphysema and Dyspnea on Exertion

… Continued …


People with emphysema have susceptibility to have pneumonia, an infection in the lung that can make you very unwell. The symptoms include cough, difficulty breathing, or fever.

Pneumonia is usually treatable, and the treatment is dependent on the underlying cause. Many times, it can be treated at home and usually relieve in a few weeks.

But in young children, older adults, or individuals with existing another health condition such as diabetes and COPD – it could be more serious (hospitalization may be required). The possible complications include:

  1. Pleurisy, inflammation of pleura (large, thin of tissue between the lungs and ribcage). Excess fluid may accumulate in the space between the chest’s wall and the lungs, causing a condition called pleural effusion. Pleural effusion usually improves when pneumonia is successfully treated.
  2. The infection may cause the lung tissue to die, and pus-filled cavity develops in that space. This is called lung abscess, but it’s rare in pneumonia.
  3. What happen in the lungs can affect the circulation (bloodstream). In rare cases, pneumonia may also cause blood poisoning (septicaemia).
Giant bullae

If the enlargement of alveoli gets worse, large empty spaces (bullae) in the lung may develop. At advanced emphysema, patient may have giant bullae which can be as large as half the lung.

Giant bullae can significantly interfere with the lung function, making it more difficult for breathing. Because there will be less space available for the lung to expand normally! The problem can increase the risk of collapsed lung, too.

Pneumothorax (collapsed lung)

Pneumothorax has a number of different causes – and one of them is emphysema, though it is uncommon. Large holes, empty space in the lung (bullae) may burst over time. This can lead to lung deflation, collapsed lung.

It can be life threatening, especially in people with severe emphysema since the lungs function is already so compromised. The treatment is often dependent on the cause of the problem. Typically, the treatment is aimed to remove the excess air. Sometimes the problem may improve on its own – especially for a very small pneumothorax.

Heart problems

A problem in the lung can affect the supply of oxygen into the blood. And lack of oxygen in the blood means the heart needs to work harder to compensate. Over time, this may increase the risk of some heart problems.

Furthermore, the enlargement of lung due to advanced emphysema can cause extra pressure in the blood vessels that line from and to the heart. This may lead to cor pulmonale, a condition in which a part of the heart expands or weakens.

What to do?

To improve dyspnea on exertion if you have emphysema, here are some checklists to remember:

  1. Your healthcare providers can make the most appropriate treatment plan. Follow the treatment as well!
  2. If you think that supplemental oxygen may help, talk to your doctor whether this therapy is your option.
  3. If you smoke, quit! Tobacco smoke is the top leading cause of emphysema. If you’re already diagnosed with the disease, quitting can still help a lot to cope with the disease. Avoid also other respiratory irritants such as burning candles, fumes from car exhaust, and fumes from paint.
  4. Try to keep healthy and wash both of your hands frequently to reduce the risk of infection. Stay clear of other people who are sick! If necessary, talk to your doctor whether you need to get pneumonia vaccination.
  5. To help make coughing easier, try to keep hydrated. The use of a vaporizer or a humidifier may help, too.
  6. Try to stay away from cold air! Because cold air may cause spasms of your air passages, making it even harder to breathe.
  7. Although shortness of breath usually flares up on exertion such as during exercise, it’s still important to keep active as much as possible. If possible, for example, try light exercise such as yoga. In fact, getting plenty of physical activity is important to improve the flow of oxygen in the circulation.
  8. Choose the most comfortable sleeping position to help ease your dyspnea! For instance, sleeping with head raised (on pillows) may help.
  9. Control your stress and anxiety, because these psychological problems will make your breathing more difficult.
  10. And if you’re obese /overweight, lose your weight gradually. Because obesity can make your lungs and heart work more difficult!
When to see a doctor?

Seek help immediately if you have the following conditions:

  1. If your shortness of breath is acute or getting worse – and it doesn’t improve with lifestyle measures.
  2. If your shortness of breath comes with chest pain.
  3. If you also have other symptoms such as high fever, the fingernails /lips turn in color (become gray /blue), wheezing, or other unusual symptoms.
Article sources:

  1. http://www.medicinenet.com/shortness_of_breath/symptoms.htm
  2. http://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/shortness-of-breath/basics/definition/sym-20050890
  3. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/emphysema